Pentecost is here!
Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot
May 19, 2021
On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were uncertain enough about their future. Many things had happened to these disciples. The same huddled group that experienced the ascended Christ is the same group that does not quite know what will happen next by the time Acts 2 unfolds. Jesus has told them that they are to go forward, out into the world, from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Yet, here they are, still wondering about “what’s next?”
The story of Pentecost, with its sudden experience of Spirit and flame, is a story that helps the disciples to know that they are not alone in this “global” call to spread the gospel. The Spirit brings to life the ministry of the Church, helping them to speak in all of the languages of the world. It is an amazing moment as the book of Acts describes how many languages the preaching of the disciples is immediately experienced. The preaching of Christ crucified is heard not only in the language of the disciples, but also in a way that can be clearly heard by any of the nations.
The day of Pentecost sets up the rather astonishing story of Acts, as the Church becomes less of a bunch of people primarily from Galilee, but a movement that crosses all boundaries: gender, social, economic, age, geographic, and political. The story that begins with a small, frightened group ends with a sense that this gospel is indeed going forward, “with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).
How they got to this point is also instructive. To understand the earliest Christians (and hopefully ourselves!), look at the last words of Acts 2:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
In this earliest moment of church life, we see a great deal that we can look at as instructive in Acts:
- A Church that is able to move forward.
- A church that can move without feeling paralyzed.
- A church that can be humble enough to be simple yet deep.
- A church that gives so gladly and generously that it creates a completely new way of living.
How can we “prove” these things make a church? By endeavoring to live it out.
May we aspire:
- To be nimble as a church—for the church to be able to run, walk, waltz, glide through challenges and have a good deal of sense about how to continue its work apace rather than be paralyzed or hesitant about living the Gospel well in its community and ministry context.
- To be reflective rather than reactive. A healthy congregation takes time, discerns well, and does not always seem to let “the tail wag the dog” when it comes to its ministry and purpose.
- To be conscious of provisionality. We confess that we do not have it all figured out, that change happens, and seek to practice a graceful, rather than fearful, receptivity to understanding that our ministry, mission, beliefs, and practices are always in revision and in need of revision.
- To be able to include. A new believer or new member should enter into the midst of a church’s ministry without feeling like there is a waiting list or a set of unwritten rules to be able to be part of the work and life of the congregation. To be able to include means that a church thinks about how each person’s gifts improve the life of the congregation rather than just looking at the person as a utilitarian tool to “keep the doors open” or worse, impassively debating whether the person “fits” the “unspoken” expectations of who can really be part of the congregation.
- To be bearers of grace and peace, the unique calling of the church in a world of chaos and pain. The church provides to the world people who are able to move where the deep woundedness of the world is known and provide respite, care, advocacy, and yes, even authentic humanity to people in need.
So this day, we hope to remember the day of Pentecost, as the Spirit of God breathed life into the Church, and remember that we are not at the end of that holy fire, as if we are the dying embers at day’s end. Instead, we dare to think of ourselves as the continuation of that story, with the desire to live our lives together as a spiritual community, responsive to the Spirit kindling within us, prompting us, pushing us, beckoning us to reach beyond our boundaries, beyond these four walls, and out into the world.
To be a celebratory, renewing, reforming community means that church is not about preserving an institution. Instead, the church draws from a deep dependence on God, living the simple life of the gospel of Jesus, and drinks deeply from the well of the Spirit. Celebration, renewal, and reformation are not relegated to last-minute thought. They are part of the air that the congregation breathes and upon which it depends.
Peter may have been the grand preacher on Pentecost day, but the Book of Acts reminds us that the story is really about the people called “the Church.” Acts is about all God’s people, not just the few that we tend to memorialize as “great Churchmen” and after whom we name churches. Church transformation begins in the pews, as the Spirit moves in each heart, as the Spirit fans into flame the giftedness of each individual.
We observe the day of Pentecost not impassively or dispassionately, as if recollecting a historical event or a sacred story that we remember once a year. We observe the day of Pentecost with the belief that indeed the Spirit is moving in our midst. This morning, on this day of Pentecost, we call upon the Spirit to move in our midst bringing wind to the little boat we call “Church,” ready for living on the open seas, riding the waves of change. We pray to the Spirit that we take leave of just grimly hugging the shoreline, trying desperately to stay close enough to safe harbor that the ship not come to peril.
So this day, we hope to remember the day of Pentecost, as the Spirit of God breathed life into the Church, and remember that we are not at the end of that holy fire, as if we are the dying embers at day’s end. Instead, we dare to think of ourselves as the continuation of that story, with the desire to live our lives together as a spiritual community, responsive to the Spirit kindling within us, prompting us, pushing us, beckoning us to reach beyond our boundaries, beyond these four walls, and out into the world. May we experience Pentecost not as a “past event” but a “present calling” and a “pointing to a future” that is not about fate, but destiny—a holy mission God calls us to behold and undertake.
The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot is associate executive minister, American Baptist Churches of New York State.